82. Mountain View Cohousing Community
The aspirational housing of the U.S. is a single-family home that requires massive amounts of energy to build, maintain, and fill with furniture, appliances, and other lifestyle and status goods. In the typical suburb, where the car is an extension of these houses, people must drive for business and social opportunities. Worse, this “American dream” is being adopted globally as more people acquire the resources to duplicate it.
In addition to needing a more sustainable model for all, sustainable, healthy, and humanistic approaches are needed to house and support older adults, particularly in the U.S., where Baby Boomers are both aging and living longer than previous generations. As we get older, the activities we once took for granted aren’t easy anymore: the house is too big to maintain; a grocery store or doctor visit is a major expedition; yet the alternative for many older adults is a facility that limits their independence, diminishing their mental health and quality of life.
Mountain View Cohousing Community is an in-process senior cohousing community, a Silicon Valley example of a model developed to improve these problems of massive resource consumption and social disconnection. Cohousing neighborhoods are composed of privately owned homes clustered around shared open space and common facilities. Cars are kept to the exterior of the site, making the neighborhood pedestrian-friendly and safe for kids. Future residents act as their own developers and are involved in the design so that it reflects their needs and priorities, and so they can build strong ties in the process.
Through design and resident cooperation, cohousing neighborhoods are, by nature, sustainable. Smaller homes, green building attributes and renewable energy systems are made possible by combined efforts and shared resources. On-site activities and companionship enable residents to socialize close to home, and cohousing communities are often located within existing neighborhoods, helping to decrease the need to drive everywhere and creating a built-in social network for residents of all ages.
Cohousing brings social, environmental and economic benefits for a more sustainable lifestyle, and has broad applicability in neighborhood, town, and mixed-use planning and design. A participatory design process creates resident involvement and equity from the outset ensuring that the neighborhood reflects the interests of each resident group and creates social bonds that continue after move-in. The design elements of a cohousing neighborhood: a car-free environment, pooled parking, child and senior-friendly site planning and clustered development, can also be applied in large neighborhood schemes. In total, cohousing offers an innovative planning and design solution to many of today's environmental and social challenges.
Living in a cohousing community, whether multigenerational or senior-focused, helps seniors deal with many of the issues that confront them as they age, namely isolation, lack of companionship and the challenges of meeting their everyday needs. Common facilities typically include a common house with a central kitchen, laundry room, guest rooms, a lounge and workshop spaces, as well as the option for a full-time caregiver unit, depending on the interests and needs of the future residents. Senior cohousing helps prolong seniors’ abilities to remain in their homes as they age and provides a cooperative environment of support. By making it possible for residents to combine resources, live in smaller homes and share goods and common spaces, cohousing communities are models for affordable aging in community and sustainable neighborhood development.
Why it should be recognized:
The cohousing model that Mountain View Cohousing Community exemplifies has been gaining traction in the U.S. for over two decades, largely through the work of McCamant & Durrett Architects. It has been replicated in over a hundred communities in the U.S., as well as hundreds of others around the world. The model is extremely flexible, so while it is often used to build new communities from the ground up, it can also be used to retrofit existing inefficient, disconnected and unsustainable neighborhoods – often at lower cost, making it more affordable for the developers and residents (who are often one and the same).
The Mountain View project has been lauded by Greenbelt Alliance as a way to live sustainably, but it is not just an environmental solution. Cohousing’s true purpose is to improve its residents’ quality of life by connecting them with one another and thereby building social capital that benefits their physical health, mental health, economic stability, empowerment and involvement in their community. And as an affordable option, cohousing allows a wide range of people at all income levels and ages to reap those benefits.